Haibun Today
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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 4, December 2010



Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

 

The Lightning Field

Last weekend, drove to Quemado, through volcanic malpais. Rich says Quemado seems more remote as a destination than it would if we were just passing through.
The caretaker drives us and two other couples about 45 minutes out into remote feeling range. I sit up front and have one of those satisfying New Mexico conversations about rain, drought, cattle, grass, pinon, and bark beetles. His father ran a gas station in Pie Town and sometimes only one car came by a day. This being New Mexico land art, he was also one of the people who built the Lightning Field and has opinions on Roden Crater. The other folks all hail from southern California.

even the word
vastness
underestimates

The Lightning Field itself is like a mirage, coming and going in the light. We walk some of the perimeter first, and sit on dry ground out of the wind. Birds fly up over the grassland. The poles glimmer, shimmer, disappear, re-appear. It is a piece of sculpture really too big to grasp at once: a mile by a kilometer. 400 poles of stainless steel, highly polished. Placed in a rectangular grid by artist Walter de Maria in 1977. It seems more than the sum of its parts—poles evenly spaced stretching away as far as the eye can see.

33 years
beneath these poles—
how many rabbit holes?

I am totally charmed, but Rich has doubts. "When is a work of art too much trouble?" he asks.
Because of its simplicity, scale, and pattern, the field brings metaphor to mind. A shaman's pole, like the one in the Old Kalevala, connecting heaven and earth, as indeed does a lightning rod. Jacob's ladder. With the angels going both up and down.

horizon clearing—
it must have been you I saw
out in the field

Dinner is an excellent green chile cheese enchilada casserole, tortillas, beans, and flan—all left in the refrigerator. I add a green salad. The moon comes up with spectacular precision, although you really can't see the poles in moonlight.
Get up at dawn and walk in the field. Pink in the east but cloudy. Here the illusion of the field overtakes me. Turning to look at the cabin I see it is actually IN the field rather than at the edge. But as I get closer the illusion fades and I no longer see poles reaching beyond the house.

telephone poles
highway
the flash-by dreams

was that piece of bone
always here
by the doorjamb?

the same light
comes through the chinks
of the cabin

This coming and going of things makes me feel I've solved my zen koan. Rich, however, is more dubious about it all. He has been roaming around in his usual energetic manner but he says: I can't help but wonder if this is the best artistic use of the site.

awaiting
departure as if that were
news of the world

We're both thinking of the VLA's radio telescopes. There is a windmill behind the house, and we're thinking of fields of windmills.

I saw your hat
walk away
turn back


The Lightning Field
Walter de Maria, 1977
Dia Art Foundation
400 polished stainless steel poles in a rectangular grid
Near Quemado, New Mexico

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